The man who rose to prominence as an NFL head coach by filling in for the leukemia-stricken Chuck Pagano with Indianapolis in 2012 has revealed that he fought through another form of cancer last season.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer, in December of last year and decided to finish out the campaign, a disappointing one for the Cardinals who followed up a 13-3 run — which ended with an appearance in the NFC Championship Game — with a 7-8-1 record.
Arians, who also dealt with diverticulitis earlier in the season, revealed the details in his new book “The Quarterback Whisperer,” which was released on Tuesday.
In the book, Arians confirmed February surgery, which was deemed successful and will allow the 64-year-old veteran coach to remain on the sidelines come September and perhaps even longer than that.
“Now I feel great. My energy has returned. I’m told I’m cancer-free again,” Arians wrote in the book. “I’m ready for at least one more season of NFL football. Maybe more.”
Most of the book deals with Arians’ 40-plus-year sojourn in coaching, which began back in 1975 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater Virginia Tech.
From there he was off and running with his first real gig as an offensive coach at Mississippi State. After a short stay at Alabama, Arians got his first chance at the big chair in Philadelphia at Temple University in the mid-1980s, where the results were mediocre in a difficult environment but the program’s descent after Arians’ departure indicates the coach should have been graded on a curve.
After Temple, Arians got his first NFL job as the running backs coach in Kansas City in 1989. Over the next several years, he bounced back and fourth between the league and the college ranks, but after a one-year stint as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 1997, Arians was an NFL guy for good.
That said, he was never really thought off as a potential leader of an NFL team and was actually thinking about retirement after he was replaced as the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh after the 2011 season.
Pagano came calling, however, and Arians agreed to jump on as his OC with the Colts. Once Pagano had to take the leave to fight his own cancer battle, Arians won nine of the 12 games he handled, good enough to be named NFL Coach of the Year as an interim mentor.
His performance also earned Arians the big title in Arizona, where he quickly turned the Cards into the NFC powerhouse, winning double digits in three consecutive seasons and another Coach of the Year award before falling off a bit last year as he dealt with the health issues.
The transformation from longtime assistant to perhaps the best NFL coach not named Belichick was child’s play, however, compared to some of the off-the-field issues Arians has had to traverse in recent years.
In 2007 while he was in Pittsburgh, Arians beat prostate cancer, before keeping things together with the Colts while Pagano was gone. The next year with the Cards, Arians had to deal with skin cancer, and last year it was the diverticulitis and the far more serious renal issue. Meanwhile, both his brother-in-law and longtime agent died of cancer.
“I now realize more than ever nothing is guaranteed in life,” Arians surmised. “Every day needs to be enjoyed and celebrated to the fullest. Roses need to be smelled, sunsets savored, time with family cherished.”
With everything behind him for now, Arians is embracing his past and how his story might potentially help others to keep fighting.
“Moving forward, I want to be a beacon of hope for others struggling with cancer,” Arians penned. “My fight is their fight. I’m not coaching for myself in 2017; I’m coaching for everyone who’s dealing with cancer. This is my charge.”
And that’s a far bigger calling than football, so if you’re looking for a bandwagon to jump on in 2017, start in Arizona, where this could be the last time the band of Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald play together.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen.
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